John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks, Nev. re-inaugurated its dinner shows May 3 with “A Night To Remember,” a tribute to the music of Sun Records and Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. According to one of the performers, it was the first dinner show at the Nugget in 15 years.
We hadn't heard about the show even playing there until we walked into the casino Friday afternoon to check in and saw the advertisement on the wall. But a banner said the show was sold out and it looked like we would be disappointed. A staff member, however, suggested we check at the box office before the show and see if tickets were available. It's a very good thing we did. Not only were we able to get seats, but they were great ones halfway to the stage.
And the show was just amazing. There were many reminders of The Million Dollar Quartet, also the title of a different music show. "A Night to Remember" is a tribute to the music of Sun Records when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins were on the label with the four performers playing their hits and a few other songs from their catalog. The show had some added authenticity by using wired microphones on all but one song.
Carl Perkins (John Mueller) opened the show. Mueller had an angular face, like Perkins, and was a great guitarist, using many of the licks from the original records. He got the show off to a rocking good start with “Honey Don't,” then knocked out “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” “Matchbox” and “Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby” before ending his portion of the show with “Blue Suede Shoes.” Mueller had the real look-and-feel of Perkins throughout. And we'd only just begun.
Perkins (Mueller) then introduced “The Killer,” Jerry Lee Lewis (Blair Carman). Similar to Mueller's Perkins, Carman's looks were very similar to Lewis, thin with dirty blond hair combed back. His playing was stunning. He started off very strong with “High School Confidential,” then slowed it down a little for “Crazy Arms,” Jerry Lee Lewis' first release.
Next, he dug deep in the Killer's catalog for “Jambalaya.” Not one of the better known songs by Lewis, Carman tore the top of the song with some great pumping piano. He continued with another rocker, “Breathless,” then ended his set with “When the Saints Go Marching In” and the Killer's signature song, “Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On. Carman showed he knew Jerry Lee's mannerisms quite well, even kicking the piano with his boots and knocking back the stool as the Killer often does. So far, so very very good.
Next up was Johnny Cash, as played by Neil Morrow. Next to Carman and Mueller, Morrow's Cash didn't quite match up. He was a little heavier and older than the Sun Cash was. But he sang very well, starting off with “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” then reaching into the early part of Cash's legacy for “Get Rhythm.” He then moved into the Columbia years for “Ring of Fire” and “Big River,” ending with “I Walk the Line” and “Cocaine Blues.”
But he had one of the memorable parts of the show when he introduced “I Walk the Line” and showed the audience how Cash made up for not having a drummer on “I Walk the Line” by using a dollar bill stuck between his guitar strings. “Cash” asked “Perkins” (Mueller) for a $20 dollar bill and used it for the song. He then promptly gave it away to an audience member, which brought laughs from the audience.
Finally, Cash (Morrow” introduced Elvis Presley, as played by Travis Ledoyt. His Presley had the look, the lip and the attitude of the young Ed Sullivan era Presley. It was stunning to see even before the music began.
"Get outta that bed, wash your face and hands,” he sang to start “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” and the audience loved it. He continued with “That's Alright, Mama,” then "Baby Let’s Play House,” "All Shook Up,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don't Be Cruel” and “Money Honey.” For “Love Me,” he took a wireless mike (“a new invention,” he joked) and went into the audience. The crowd ate up the attention and so did he.
To finish out the show, Carman's Jerry Lee sang “Great Balls of Fire,” then Ledoyt's Elvis sang “(You Ain't Nothing But a) Hound Dog.” The whole group then ended the regular part of the show with “Down By the Riverside,” which was one of the songs done at the original Million Dollar Quartet session, though that wasn't mentioned.
The crowd cheered for an encore, and the group accommodated them. Ledoyt as Elvis sang “Big Hunk O' Love” and the whole group ended the evening with “Good Rockin' Tonight.”
Who was the best? Ledoyt's Elvis probably gets the edge for the complete personification of Elvis, but as a Jerry Lee Lewis fan, we were quite taken with the way Carman played the piano not just note-for-note with the songs. But drummer Ty Cox and string bass player Johnny Bowler also deserve kudos for their great backup work in the show.
We really hope we get to see this show again and a Nugget spokesman indicated they want to bring it back. It was great fun, made even better, probably, by the fact we were lucky enough to just stumble upon it. But there was a whole lot of great music going on. And anyone who is a fan of this era will appreciate it. It was a night we'll not forget in a long time.